One with nature

Huntsville State Park is a great getaway for the day or weekend

Huntsville State Park is an easy weekend getaway. Texas Parks and Wildlife

Houston is a world-class city. We have a burgeoning arts scene, a food culture that surpasses almost every other city in the United States, and neighborhoods that are finally becoming walkable. One thing we don’t have, however, is accessible outdoor activities.

When I moved back to Houston from San Marcos, I never thought about how no longer being a bike ride away from the river would affect me. I can't take a walk that ends with me being completely secluded in a bunch of trees while also somehow still being in a city with a population of 60,000. That’s what I miss most about the Hill Country. Natural beauty. 

I want my daughter to appreciate nature, and the serenity that just getting away from the city can provide. I made it my personal quest to try to get her to every park in Houston. There are, like, 500 parks — and some of them are just green spaces — but we do it. Every weekend, we get on the train and go to Discovery Green, Hermann Park, Emancipation Park. You name it, if it’s in the city we’ve tried to go.

But that’s not enough. Recently been embarking on a new quest. Where can you and the family go within a day's drive of the city? Staying overnight can be a struggle especially with children, so we’ll be focusing on only those places within two to three hours of Houston, though you can turn most of these into a weekend camping trip.

First up: Huntsville State Park.

Huntsville State Park is a great getaway for the day or for an entire weekend. One day this spring, I packed my daughter and a lunch on a whim and we drove up to Huntsville. An hour-and-a-half north of the inner loop, the state park is over 2,000 acres of trails, campsites and lakes.

One of the trails, the Triple C, is 8.5 miles long and takes over four hours to hike. We are novice hikers, and she’s a small child who definitely can’t walk for four hours, so we opted for hiking a group of three trails that all intersect toward the park entrance: the Dogwood, Prairie Branch Loop, and part of the Chinquapin (you can hike this trail by itself for three hours).

We ate lunch at a picnic table at Lake Raven, where you can fish, swim or kayak. For us city folk, the best part of Huntsville is that it is so busy all the time you’re less likely to run into any scary wildlife. The trail map said to watch out for alligators, so we were obviously on guard, but we didn’t see one.

Now, for those of you that are used to hiking and enjoy seeing coyotes, snakes, and alligators, this might actually be a turn off. Another downside of such a busy park is that I just felt like the city had relocated 60 miles north into a wooded area.

We left our house at 11 am, got to Huntsville at about 12:30 pm, ate lunch by the river and hiked until about 3 pm, and were back home before 5 pm. A great day away from the hustle and bustle of the city for the cost of gas and a $5 park entrance fee.  

We’ll be headed back this fall to camp for the weekend.

A CAUTIONARY TAIL, PART 2

Readers respond to Ken Hoffman's dog park debacle

Photo by Jacob Power

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about my dog Sally being attacked by three dogs (one owner) at Officer Lucy Dog Park in Bellaire. Admittedly, I was furious when I wrote the column. I am still furious. Despite a big sign with a long list of safety rules, this one person was allowed to bring his three big, violent dogs into that dog park. I managed to get my dog (and me) out of the park safely.

During our ensuing shouting, the owner of the other dogs told me, "I was here first" and "If you don't like it, don't bring your dog in here." The owner was right about one thing. I didn't like it, and I won't bring my dog there.

In fact, I won't bring my dog to any public dog park where there is no supervision, no assurance that vicious and sick dogs aren't present. It's just not worth the risk.

Dog park danger

It turns out, I did the smart thing. I did not confront the other dog owner. I called the Bellaire cops. Three officers, plus the city's animal control officer, arrived within 10 minutes. They talked to the owner of the vicious dogs, and he left. The police now have a report with information about this person and his dogs.

In Texas, if a dog harms another dog, the owner could be responsible for the vet bills resulting from his dog attacking another dog. If the owner's dog kills another dog, the owner could be responsible for replacing the dead dog. Yeah, that would make everything okay. Your dog killed my dog, my best friend, the dog I loved like there's no tomorrow … but you're going to give me $50 to get another one?

If that owner's dogs had killed Sally that day, I would have spent that night in jail.

Readers respond

Reader reaction to my column surprised me. I understand that people are passionate about their dogs (nobody more than me) and dog parks are popular. I expected to hear strong defenses of dog parks. That was not the case. Here are some of the responses I received.

  • "My dog also got attacked at the gate of Officer Lucy Dog Park; a pit bull grabbed him by the throat, tearing the skin and requiring stitches."
  • "At the very least, they'll get loaded with fleas."
  • "My dog was attacked twice at a dog park. I was frightened my dog would get killed. No more."
  • "Dog parks harbor disease, excrement, vicious dogs, and a-hole owners. We would never take our sweet girl to one."
  • "I think they are great. I wish people would bring their dogs there and not to restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and other places that are intended for humans."
  • "We used to go to dog parks all the time, but then our dog was attacked. I overheard the owner say after we pulled his dog off mine, 'He always does this.' My dog ended up with a $800 medical bill."
  • "Do not confront the bad dog owner — you and your dog could wind up sharing a hospital room."
  • "Come to Eadog Park. We are all a family and are familiar with everyone's dog. If anyone's dog acts up, we ask them to kindly leave. We don't tolerate that behavior."

Continue on CultureMap to read about the aftermath.


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